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August 23, 2003
[ Update: The Net Dodges A Bullet ]

 Sobig wasn't quite as big as they feared: The second stage of the virus fizzled when folk disconnected the servers the virus had instructed infected PCs to download new instructions from, CNET reports. The experts feared that the software could be used to spy on the computers' owners or launch another wave of spam.  The Sobig series of mass-mailing computer viruses is believed to have been created by spammers or a group of online vandals that sell their services to spammers. Phew. For now.

[ News: Worms and Blackouts ]

 Conspiracy theorists reckon the big power blackout in the U.S. Northeast and part of Canada may have been caused by the Blaster worm. Here's Robert X. Cringely from InfoWorld: "Many plants on the grid run a Windows-based SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system that receives remote commands through the same RPC (Remote Procedure Call) protocol exploited by MSBlaster. Among other things, SCADA systems control the amount of energy each plant produces."

August 22, 2003
[ Update: Gillette Said To Abandon Tag Trials ]

 From the This Sounds Like A Good Thing, Or Are We Being Luddites? Dept comes news that privacy protests against the trial of RFID tags by Gillette at a Tesco store in Cambridge have prodded Gillette to abandon their trial, according to Indynews. RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tags are small tags containing a microchip which can be 'read' by radio sensors over short distances.
 
 
Recent trials involving attaching these tags to products have raised concerns about privacy, as information on the tag could be read long after the product was purchased. Tesco is also testing RFID tags in its DVD range at the Extra store in Sandhurst, Berkshire.

[ Info: More Memory For That Old Machine In The Attic ]

 From the Obscure Info But Store It Away Because You're Bound To Need It Someday Dept comes an interesting service: new and legacy memory for desktop computers, notebooks, servers, workstations, laser printers, digital cameras and palm-top computers.
 
 
Memory4Less uses a state-of-the-art user-friendly website featuring the "Ultimate Configurator" and "Advanced Search Tools", which sound exciting in their own right, to help you find your memory.

[ News: U.S. Presidential Hopeful Spammers ]

 Fears that the next U.S. presidential election is going to be a spamfest has helped launch a Political Spam Hall of Shame. If you receive a political spam, particularly for a national campaign where the winner gets to go live in Washington DC, (and particularly if you don't actually live in the U.S. or are a U.S. citizen) send it along.
 
Here's the blurb: "The gist of my concern is that political spam should be no more acceptable than any other kind of spam, and it looks like 2004 is an election where political spam may, unfortunately, realize its full potential to annoy and aggravate, no different than V1AGARA spam or spam promoting products alleged to enlarge certain body parts.
 
"At first, we're just going to collect political spam as it happens, post it here, and document responses or non-responses of various and sundry campaigns to being labeled spammers."

[ Update: A Sneak Look Through The New Windows ]

 Further to my earlier post about the delays behind the next version of Windows, Paul Thurrott of Windows & .NET Magazine has gotten hold of some screenshots of what is codenamed Longhorn that perhaps show they're further down the road than we thought. His conclusions?
  • this Windows version will finally fulfill Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates's goal of making Windows the center of our digital lifestyle.
  • Longhorn will offer a sound volume "mix" so that users can independently control any software that generates sound; in one of the screen shots, the volume for Microsoft Outlook's new mail sound and the main speaker volume are independently controlled.
  • Continuing the Activity Center work that began with Windows Me, Longhorn aggregates common elements into central locations, rather than requiring users to navigate around the system and control discrete elements independently. For example, instead of requiring users to independently synchronize equipment such as portable audio devices, Pocket PCs, and USB memory fobs and software elements such as Offline Files, a new Longhorn SyncManager control panel will give users a central location for managing synchronization tasks. From this
    location, users will be able to set up all device and software synchronization partnerships, manage devices, and perform other related activities.

[ Update: Sobig's 9/11 ]

 Here's some more evidence that the Sobig worms may be part of something more sinister: Central Command, a provider of PC anti-virus software and services, says its latest incarnation, Sobig.F, "is estimated to have infected millions of systems worldwide and may draw on them to be part of a cyber army focusing a digital assault against major online services".
 
Here's how it may work: When particular conditions are met, Worm/Sobig.F will attempt to download additional components of the attackers choice. The pre-configured conditions include performing tests to determine if the current day is Friday or Sunday between the hours of 19:00 (7PM) and 22:00 (10PM) UTC time. When these conditions are met, the worm will attempt to retrieve further instructions that may include the downloading and execution a backdoor hacker program. Backdoors can allow someone with malicious intent to gain full control of the infected computer.
 
"The virus author(s) of Sobig have developed a predictable pattern of releasing new variants soon after the current version de-activates itself," said Steven Sundermeier, VP Products and Services at Central Command, Inc. "If the past repeats itself we could be looking at a newly constructed creation shortly after September 10th. A potential risk is that the massive army created by Worm/Sobig.F could be used to launch an all out attack on large Internet infrastructures, for example, by means of a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS)."
 
This may not happen, like the LovSan worm's planned attack on Microsoft. But to make sure you're safe check you've not got the Sobig worm aboard and if you have, remove it.

August 21, 2003
[ Update: Microsoft May Stop Footing Pussies ]

 Security Wire Digest, published by Information Security Magazine, reports that Microsoft may stop pussyfooting around on updates to its Windows operating system. In the wake of the worm that ripped through networks worldwide by exploiting a vulnerability for which a patch had been released more than three weeks before, the company is considering several plans to beef up security in its products which may automatically install patches on PCs.
 
 
Privacy advocates will have a problem with this, but it's logical. Most folk don't update properly, or even know they're supposed to, although I wonder whether it may leave Microsoft vulnerable legally. It's tantamount to saying 'what we're selling you isn't safe unless you let us keep patching it.'

[ News: Another Reason To Dump MSN Messenger? ]

 Microsoft look like they're going their own way again. An article by IDG says it's making changes to its MSN instant messaging (IM) service that will lock out users of third-party software that uses the service as well as users of older versions of Microsoft's own Messenger client.
 
 
Users have to upgrade to the latest versions of MSN or Windows Messenger by Oct. 15 or they will no longer be able to log on, Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall said. This will lock out, at least for a while, users of IM software such as Trillian, Imici and Odigo that allow users to consolidate multiple IM accounts in one client.

[ Update: Manually Extracting Worms ]

 Here are some tips for manually removing the Sobig.F worm, from Global Hauri, which sells something called a ViRobot Expert to filter unwanted emails caused by this virus (sorry, I haven't tidied up the somewhat eccentric language):
 
 
To repair the virus, install anti-virus software and update to the latest definitions. Once the antivirus update is complete, scan the whole HDD to remove the Sobig.F virus. It is possible to remove the virus manually by searching the virus on the system. Here are the steps to get rid of the critical file called "win32ppr.exe" from infected
systems:
 
1.  Unplug from the network out of your computer.
2.  Boot the computer, then hit F8 Function key above numeric key until it goes through options to choose 'safe mode'
3.  Wait until boot process completed with 'safe mode'
4.  Open Task Manager to press simultaneously three keys (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and select 'Process' tab.
5.  Find and Highlight 'winppr32.exe' from Process tab.
6.  To kill 'winppr32.exe,' click 'End Process' button in the bottom of Process tab window.
7.  Go to 'Start' at button lower left corner of Microsoft Window, select 'Search' button.  (It looks slightly different from OS versions between NT, Win2000, and XP)  Choose 'All files and Folders' and type 'winppr32.exe', and then search it thru the entire Hard Disk Drive.  (If you have more then one Hard Disk Drive, select both)
8.  Delete all 'winppr32.exe' from the search window.
9.  Reboot in normal mode and plug to the network (It will not reboot itself since deleting all 'msblast.exe.)
10. Install Anti-Virus and update the latest anti-virus definition.

[ Update: Protecting Your Castle ]

 Further to my column this week about protecting your computer in the Far Eastern Economic Review, (subscription required), here as promised is the full email from Brian Johnson of Centerbeam. It's an excellent primer.
 
Jeremy, thanks for the invitation to send you something about protecting computers viruses, worms and other exploits.  I?I've spent some time with the engineers here and have come up with a checklist of the steps people can, and should, take to protect their computers. 
 
So, maybe the best way to describe the overall strategy of protecting your computer is to ask you if you saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  If you did, you?you'll certainly recall the siege on Helm?Helm's Deep, the ancient fortress of Rohan.  The castle was built with several nested layers of defense.  When the Orcs broke through one layer, the army inside fell back behind the next layer of defense.
 
And this is the best approach to computer security and protection:  Build several layers of defense so that, even if one layer is compromised, another layer is there to protect you. 
 
Layer One:  Stop Problems Before They Reach Your Computer
 
       Turn off Your Computer When You Aren't Using It
It?Helm's very tempting these days to leave your computer on and attached to your always-on broadband connection.  Don?Don't.  Turn off your computer when you leave your home.  Quite simply put, if your computer is off, it can?Don't be hacked.
 
       Disposable Email Addresses
When doing commerce on the net, use a one-use, disposable email addresses.  This cuts down on spam, and especially spam that might carry a virus or worm with it.  Jetable.org is a good source of these addresses.
 
       Use A Firewall
Windows XP has a built-in firewall, but if you aren't?Don't on XP, or want an additional layer of protection to stop threat from ever reaching your computer in the first place, then try ZoneAlarm. 
 
       Turn Off Remote Services
Go to Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> System -> Remote and turn off the remote assistance and remote desktop.  This will help prevent someone from hijacking your computer.
 
       Scan Your System for Vulnerabilities
Microsoft provides a free security tool called the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, it can be used identify vulnerabilities, and how to fix them, quickly.  There are also a number of 3rd party security scanners available.
 
These five practices will help prevent viruses and worms from ever reaching you.
 
Layer Two: Immediately Identify and Stop A Risk When It Arrives At Your Computer
 
       Virus Protection
If an exploit makes it past your firewall, there?Helm's still a way to stop it.  By now, hopefully, everyone has some sort of virus protection program installed on their computer.  If not, invest in a high-quality program such as the one offered by McAfee.  But do remember one thing, virus protection programs tend to look for the threats it knows to look for.  McAfee is constantly looking for new threats and regularly sends out updates.  Be sure to set up your virus program to automatically check for updates otherwise new exploits will not be caught.
 
Layer Three: Don?Don't Allow Exploits to Work
If an exploit makes it past your firewall and your virus protection program, there?Helm's still another level of defense:  Don?Don't knowing allow the exploit to work.
 
       Get Your System Patches Up-To-Date
The easiest way to do this on a Windows XP system is to go to the System Update control panel and make sure this function is turned on and that it is checking daily for new updates.
 
       Turn Off Unused Services
If you do not need a particular service, (like File and Print sharing, etc.), disable them.
Disable Java, JavaScript and ActiveX if possible.  (Internet Explorer -> Tools -> Advanced)
 
       Don?Don't Open Unknown Email Attachments
Pay attention to the email that hits your inbox- and don?Don't click on it as soon as you receive it.  Don?Don't open suspicious attachments (especially with file extensions such as .vbs, ...exe, ...bat, .wsh) and get in the habit of first saving all attachments, scanning them with anti-virus program before you execute them.
 
 
Layer Four: Find Out When Things Go Wrong
 
       Install An Alarm
Remember, many security measures depend on advance knowledge of what does and does not constitute a threat.  A finally line of defense is to set an alarm that will let you know when damage is done. 
 
A company called Tripwire makes a product that constantly monitors the critical system files on your computer and alerts you when they?they've been changed.  The idea here is two-fold:  It is the last perimeter of defense as it does let you know that something has made it past all the others and has started wrecking havoc. It also identifies the damage so you know what to repair. 
 
 
Layer Five: Be Able to Escape
 
       Boot Disk
The current exploit that?Helm's on the loose has been known to complete crash a system so that it can?Don't even be booted.  This is a reminder that it?Helm's a good idea to create a boot disk, something you can boot the system with and at least recover your undamaged files.  To make one, right-click on your floppy drive and follow instructions.
 
       Back-ups
It?Helm's always a good idea and one more honored in the breech than in the observance ? like flossing.  Traditional back-ups onto removable media are time and task intensive.  And most people don?Don't follow through on this best practice by keeping their back-ups someplace other than next to their computer.  A very good alternative is to do on-line back-up through a service like Connected.  This makes the process easy and, your data is someplace secure. 
 
Finally, resign yourself to the fact taking these steps are part of the price we pay for the convenience of personal computing.  In this day and age, it is inevitable that your system will come under attack.  So, you can pay the price now, or someday regret that you didn't?Don't.
 
Thanks, Brain.

[ News: Sobig Is, Well, So Big ]

 MessageLabs, the email security company, says it has so far intercepted over one million copies of Sobig.F, a variation of an earlier virus that was doing the rounds some time back, since it was first detected on 18th August, in the first 24 hours.  This makes Sobig.F the fastest growing virus ever, surpassing the infamous LoveBug and Kournikova viruses. 
 
Sobig is a mass-emailing virus that can spoof the sender?s address, fooling the user into believing the email is from a legitimate source and then opening the email. The email often contains the following header: "Subject: Re:details" and the text ?Please see the attached file for details?. The attachment names may include: your_document.pif, details.pif, your_details.pif, thank_you.pif, movie0045.pifm document_Fall.pif, application.pif, docment_9446.pif.
 
Once the virus has got on to your machine, it connects to a website and downloads a backdoor Trojan, leaving your computer vulnerable to security breaches by hackers or other viruses. The virus is set to deactivate on September the 10th. The virus is spreading at such a rate it is expected to continue to stay at high-level status for the short term.
 
The scary bit: it seems to be a serial virus. Alex Shipp, Senior Anti Virus Technologist at MessageLabs, says:
"The virus writer?s use of an inbuilt expiry date on Sobig indicates that he is committed to inventing new and improved versions. Each variant released so far has exceeded the previous one in growth."

[ News: No More Face Scans, Please ]

 From the We're Not Quite There Dept comes news of a failure: facial-recognition software.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that two years after Tampa became the nation's first city to use facial-recognition software to search for wanted criminals, officials are dropping the program. It led to zero arrests. Police spokesman Joe Durkin put a brave face on it: "I wouldn't consider it a failure," he said. "You are always looking for new and efficient ways to provide the best service to the community. There's going to be ups and downs."
 
 
The system used New Jersey-based Visionics Corp's Face-It software, which was installed on 36 cameras in the Ybor City entertainment district.

[ News: Elementary Mama, I'm Inconvenient ]

 Hot on the heels of the dog and cat translator: the baby cry translator. I leave it to Excite Japan, who tell the story better than I: The "translator of a baby's cry" for an elementary mama appeared. This equipment that analyzed and made the kind of a baby's cry shows a baby's feeling by five, a hungry feeling, sleepiness, stress, and inconvenient, and the degree of correctness exceeds 90%.
 
 
A certain mother is performing the clinical test in the 議政府 (WIJOMBU) saint's mother hospital. By the schedule put on the market from September, a price is the level of 180,000won (about 18,000 yen). 申寅燮 (Singh in soup) journalist. Come to Elementary Mama.
 

August 20, 2003
[ Offer: Enfish Going Cheap, and Looking It Too ]

 I'm a tad worried about Enfish. Once the great white hope of computer indexing, I can't help feeling they're floundering. I just received an email -- about five copies of it, to be precise -- which seems to offer a version of Enfish's Find product at a discount.
 
 
From what I can figure out in the email and on the website, Enfish Find can be bought for $44.95 - 10% off the full price. Fair enough, but why such an incomprehensible email, and why the typos? Enfish is still a good product, but it's facing stiff competition from the more energetic X1 Technologies. Sloppy promotions aren't going to help.

[ News: Psst! Wanna Buy a Segway? ]

 It's the modern crime, and the modern sting. The Register reports on the "first, known Segway sting operation" when police in New York arrested a 24-year-old student on felony scooter theft charges.
 
 
Yili Wang entered a Starbucks in Queens, hoping a Segway expert he met on the Internet could help get the gizmo going. Wang apparently forgot to ask about the keys for the machine when he purchased it for the, uh hem, bargain price of $75 off a man in East Harlem. There's even a video of the arrest (no the picture above isn't from the video. That's my mum talking to the delivery man).

[ News: The Spam Filter That Might Be ]

 Yet another spam option: Starfield Technologies, Inc., sister company of domain registrar GoDaddy.com, has announced Spam Xploder which uses Bayesian filtering technology to intercept spam at the server level before reaching a user's mailbox. Spam Xploder works with several e-mail programs, including Microsoft Outlook/Outlook Express. Folk with Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or any IMAP- or POP3-based account can retrieve and filter their mail via Starfield's Web-Based Email or the Spam Xploder Management Client.
 
I for one was not impressed: I couldn't access their website. Unless it's a Net quirk, I'd counsel folk that they make sure their website is up and running before they release a product.
 

[ News: Something For The Folk With Too Many Email Accounts ]

 If you've got a lot of email accounts, and access them from different kinds of gadgets, Danamail may interest you. It's a new service that "lets you read and reply to all your email, from all your addresses, on any Internet-ready device, wherever you are.
 
 
Danamail consolidates all your email messages and attachments from multiple accounts into a secure, easy-to-use, single user interface. Danamail works on different platforms (Palm, PocketPC, WAP phones, Blackberry, even TVs). Might be worth a try. Basic plan costs $70 a year. Or you could just divert all your email to one account.
 

[ Update: Beware Worms Carrying Gifts ]

 You're probably heard of the computer worm that is seemingly benign: W32.Welchia.Worm targets customers infected with the W32.Blaster.Worm, deletes it, attempts to download the patch from Microsoft's Windows Update Web site to correct the hole that allowed the worm in the first place, installs the patch, and then reboots the computer. All very nice, on the surface. But then the worm checks for active machines to infect by sending an ICMP echo, or PING, which generates a lot of traffic. That's where the problem starts.
 
Symantec says it's been receiving reports of severe disruptions on the internal networks of large enterprises caused by ICMP flooding related to the propagation of the W32.Welchia.worm. (Read: large amounts of unnecessary traffic that slows networks to a crawl.) In some cases enterprise users have been unable to access critical network resources. "Despite its original intent, the W32.Welchia.Worm is an insidious worm that is preventing IT administrators from cleaning up after the W32.Blaster.Worm," said Vincent Weafer, senior director, Symantec Security Response. 
 
In large corporations it will take weeks, maybe months to install the original patch. With all this traffic on their networks, Symantec says, those patches can't be installed. What to do if you're infected with the W32.Welchia.Worm?  Symantec has posted a removal tool. Use it. There's no such thing as a nice worm.

August 19, 2003
[ Update: Sobig Is Back ]

 Just when you thought it was safe to disable the antivirus software. MessageLabs reports of a fast spreading mass-mailing virus it's calling W32/Sobig.F-mm.  The initial copies all originated from the United States.
 
Sobig.F appears to be polymorphic in nature and the email from: address is also spoofed and may not indicate the true identity of the sender.  It may carry the subject line 'Re: Details' and say 'Please see the attached file for details.' in the text.
 
Attachment names may include: your_document.pif, details.pif, your_details.pif, thank_you.pif,  movie0045.pif, document_Fall.pif, application.pif, document_9446.pif. Watch out. It's moving rapidly, a bit like babies across the floor.

[ News: Outlook Ex-press? Or Look Out Ex, Press? Or Press Outlook, Ex? ]

 From the Do Microsoft Have Any Idea What They're Doing? Dept comes another story about Microsoft products not quite gelling with reality. ZDNet Australia last week interviewed Microsoft Office product manager Dan Leach who said that Microsoft planned to halt development of Outlook Express, the email client that comes bundled with the browser Internet Explorer. Basically Microsoft seemed to hope everybody would upgrade to the Outlook collossus.
 
Fast forward two days, and scratch all that.
 
"I sat down with the Windows team today," ZDNet quoted Leach as saying, "and they tell me my comments were inaccurate. Outlook Express was in sustain engineering, but customers asked for continued improvement, and we are doing that. Microsoft will continue its innovation around the email experience in Windows."
 
Leach was either on the beach too long, or customers were upset, or Bill intervened. Whatever, I'm overjoyed I'm still going to have 'the email experience in Windows', whatever that is. Still, I'd rather go for Courier, Pegasus, or even the email client in Opera. None are perfect, but they're sturdy.

[ News: Windows On The (Distant) Future ]

 Reports are starting to trickle out of trouble at t'Microsoft mill. One says it looks like there won't be a new release of Windows for "quite a while".
 
 
A Service Pack (SP) 2 for Windows XP -- a set of patches and updates to the software -- is "running a year later than Microsoft had targeted". Instead of shipping by the end of calendar 2003, SP2 is now a Q3 2004 deliverable. Microsoft didn't announce the date slip; instead, it came to light in an article on "service pack lifecycles" published to the Microsoft Web site on Friday. And Longhorn, the codename for the next version of Windows now, after supposedly being available next year, and then 2005, has no firm release date at all. What gives?

[ Update: The Blaster non-Blast ]

 Blaster turned out to be less of one, at least in terms of the Internet storm it was supposed to whip up. Still, I've heard of plenty of infections. IDG reports that the attack on Microsoft Corp.'s main software update Web site did not materialize Saturday, despite infecting half a million PCs, as computers infected with the W32.Blaster worm failed to find their target.
 
Turns out the worm provided the incorrect domain address for the target. So Microsoft merely delisted the windowsupdate.com domain name, and the worm, not knowing where to go, didn't go anywhere. Doesn't help those of you infected, but most of you seem to be cleaning yourselves up:
The number of Blaster infections is also down more than 80 percent since the worm's peak on Monday, indicating that vulnerable computers are being cleaned and patched by their owners, IDG says.

August 18, 2003
[ News: The Palm (Family) Tree ]

 In case you're interested, Palm, Inc. is now "palmOne, Inc." This follows the company's spin-off this fall of PalmSource, Inc., the software/Operating System part of the business. The name "palmOne, Inc." will encompass the sub-brands Zire(tm) and Tungsten(tm), as well as Treo, upon the completion of the planned acquisition of Handspring, Inc., also expected this fall.
 

The logo blurb: "Chosen after scores of interviews with Palm customers, partners, employees, naming consultants and industry influencers, the new name is characterised in two colours - deep red for the word "palm" and vibrant orange for "One," reflecting the sub-brand colours for the company's Tungsten line of solutions for mobile professionals and businesses  and its Zire line of solutions for consumers and multimedia enthusiasts, respectively.  Products will begin to bear the new brand name in 2004.

I'm not crazy about the logo and colours, but I'm sure I'll get used to it...


August 17, 2003
[ Update: Bowlingual Barks Up The Wrong Tree ]

 Further to my post a month ago about the imminent arrival of Bowlingual, a device that allegedly tells you the mood of your dog based on their barks, here's a serious review of the unit by a real vet. Her conclusion? nothing more than $120 curiosity.
 

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

my columns appear in
The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
both are owned by Dow Jones.

see below for subscription links -- sorry, but the columns are only available to subscribers.

companies, PR agencies etc, please send relevant news, pitches, product review requests here. happy to hear from you, but I stress the word 'relevant'.

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